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Historical Profile of El Salvador:

In relation to the long-term vision of La Coordinadora

and the signing of the MOU/Convenion with MIIS

La Coordinadora

La Coordinadora is a grassroots movement representing approximately 35,000 low-

income rural farmers and fishers in southeastern El Salvador. Established in 1996 by
thirteen communities determined to survive the flooding of the Lempa River, this
democratic, representative organization now works to provide long-term solutions to the
challenges that its members face.

In accomplishing its goal of sustainable economic development, the Coordinadora faces

many challenges: flooding disasters, poverty, insufficient food production, illiteracy, a
lack of infrastructure, a lack of skills, dependency, government indifference [N.B. This
was written before the change of government occurred following the elections of January
and March 2009], and community violence, particularly due to gang activity and the
widespread access to weapons. Although it has made progress in all of these areas,
considerable work remains to be done.

The Coordinadora has grown to include roughly 90 communities, each of which elects
two representatives to its general assembly. This popular, democratic movement has
diverse leadership. It includes, for example, former FMLN (Frente Farabundi Martí para
la Liberación Nacional) guerillas, former members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces,
women, Catholics, and evangelicals. Beneficiaries directly participate in project design
and implementation.

Some of the Coordinadora's accomplishments include:

• Quick and effective disaster response following Hurricane Mitch (1998), the 2001
earthquake, and Hurricane Stan (2005)
• Construction of 90 homes and a shelter that withstood the 2001 earthquake
• Bay of Jiquilisco environmental protection
• Development of local leadership
• Creation of a democratic, representative organization in over 80 communities
• 160 community organic farms
• Twelve shrimp farms
• 450 cottage chicken businesses
• 1,200 campesinos trained in “green” agriculture techniques
• Local Zone of Peace
• Successful mediation between rival youth gangs

Today, the Coordinadora continues moving forward by promoting sustainable agriculture

and participation in local government. The Coordinadora also provides training in
conflict mediation to community members. Their goal is that community members
themselves become the teachers, allowing development and change to come from within
the community.

The Local Zone of Peace

In 1998, la Coordinadora's communities committed themselves to ending the violence

that has been endemic to the region since the end of El Salvador's civil war (1980-1992).
They declared their communities a Local Zone of Peace and resolved to promote
reconciliation, collaborative problem solving, and non-violent conflict resolution.

The best way to create peace is through the grassroots. Although the civil wars have
stopped, few countries in Central America know peace because their societies use and
accept violence in daily life. Violence has actually increased for many in El Salvador
since 1992. For that reason, the Local Zone of Peace serves as a pilot project in fostering
justice, changing attitudes, and empowering local people through non-violent means.

The roots of violence in the southern portion of the department of Usulután (which
includes the area where Team Monterey is working), go back to before the civil war,
when the region was already known to be violence-prone. During the civil war, these
tendencies increased. Southern Usulután frequently served as a battleground between the
Salvadoran Armed Forces and the FMLN, the rebel army. Following the Peace Accords
in 1992, the government redistributed much of the region's rich farmland to refugees and
former soldiers from the FMLN. However, under the guise of peace-making between
former enermies, but, in reality (according to some), in order to sabotage the former
rebels and guarantee that the rich could take over those lands once again, the government
resettled soldiers from its army in the same region.

Tensions and violence grew further as refugee youths were deported from the United
States: many had become involved in Los Angeles street gangs and brought the drugs
and violence back with them.

Work began in 1996 to create a Local Zone of Peace in southern El Salvador. Although
the United Nations Regions of Peace served as a model, this would become the first Zone
of Peace in the world built from the grassroots.

In order to break the cycle of violence, which the population accepted even if it did not
participate directly, José "Chencho" Alas, a former priest and friend of the murdered
Archbishop Oscar Romero, began giving Culture of Peace workshops in 1996.
Building on the basis of local values and culture, these two-day workshops have helped
to heighten awareness of peace, human rights, and non-violent conflict management
methods. They have also helped to identify and train local leaders.

Archbishop Romero
When Rome chose Oscar Arnulfo Romero to replace the liberal Archbishop Chávez as
the head of the Catholic Church in El Salvador 1977, they expected him to be politically
conservative and to stay out of political matters.However, soon after his ordination, a
close friend of his and well-known peasant activist, Father Rutilio Grande, was gunned
down. The government refused to investigate. This incident, and his growing awareness
of the violence committed by the army against the poor, brought about a change of heart
in Romero.

He became an advocate of the poor, and encouraged them to resist their continuing
exploitation by the country's elite. He spoke out against the Army's violence and human
rights abuses. His sermons, at their height, were listened to by an estimated 75% of the
country's population. He had won the support and trust of the poor. The right wing was
increasingly threatened by him, and so threatened him with violence.

The army did not tolerate this powerful, outspoken challenge for long. On March 24,
1980, an assassin shot Romero in the middle of mass. More than 100,000 mourners
attended his funeral. Army snipers fired on the crowd, killing dozens of people.
Following these tragedies, many who had remained uncertain realized that peaceful
change was impossible. They took up arms against the government and army, beginning
the full-scale civil war.

Facts about El Salvador

Population: 6,822,378 (July 2006 est.)

Comparative area: slightly smaller than Massachusetts
Climate: tropical; rainy season (May to October); dry season (November to April);
tropical on coast; temperate in uplands.
Infant mortality rate: National 24.39 deaths/1,000 live births Rural Usulután 38/1,000
Current environmental issues: deforestation; soil erosion; water pollution; contamination
of soils from disposal of toxic wastes
Life expectancy at birth: 71.49 years
Population growth rate: 1.72% (2006 est.)
Population using adequate sanitation facilities: 40% (2002) (rural)
Net migration rate: -3.61 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Adult literacy: National 80.2% Rural Women Usulután 59% Rural Men 69%
Gross National Income per capita: $2,350 (2004)
Rural Women Usulután $865 Rural Men $2,548
Population below poverty line: 36.1% (2004 est.)
Salvadorans living in the U.S.: estimates range from 650,000 to 2 million
Population using improved drinking water sources: 68% (2002) rural
Exports: $3.586 billion (2005 est.)
Offshore assembly exports, coffee, sugar, shrimp, textiles, chemicals, electricity
Partners: US 65.6%, Guatemala 11.8%, Honduras 6.3% (2004)
Imports: $6.678 billion (2005 est.)
Raw materials, consumer goods, capital goods, fuels, foodstuffs, petroleum,
Partners: US 46.3%, Guatemala 8.1%, Mexico 6% (2004)
Remittances: estimates range from $2.2 billion to $3 billion per year
[The above data comes from:
2006 CIA World Factbook:
UNICEF country statistics:
United States Census Bureau:]

A Brief History of El Salvador

At the time of the Spanish conquest, in the 16th century, between 100,000 and 130,000
indigenous Mayans and Nahuatls lived in Cuscatlán, the region that today we call El
Salvador. The Spanish Conquistadores behaved in Central America much like they did in
the rest of the New World: they took the best land for themselves, imposed their
language, religion and culture on the native population, and then enslaved it as well.

The Spanish settlers cultivated indigo, cocoa, and balsam. They dominated the New
World economically, politically, and culturally through the beginning of the nineteenth
century. Following a civil war in Spain, most of the Spanish colonies in the Americas
won their independence around 1820.

In Central America fighting broke out among the elite who continued fighting one
another until 1842. When the dust cleared an oligarchy of fourteen families controlled El
Salvador. Those same fourteen families continue to dominate the country to this day.

During the nineteenth century coffee became the primary crop of El Salvador, driven by
consumption in Europe and the United States. To obtain workers for this labor-intensive
crop, the coffee growers coerced rural farmers by dispossessing them of their traditional,
communal lands and imposing debt peonage. The profits from coffee production
remained in the hands of the Salvadoran elite and their European business partners.

In response to campesino uprisings beginning at the end of the 19th century (because
those rural farmers were less than happy with their situation) the government created a
National Guard (Guardia Nacional) in 1912. This body kept "law and order," by whatever
means necessary, throughout the 20th century.

The Great Depression severely damaged the coffee-dependent Salvadoran economy: the
value of coffee fell 60% between 1929 and 1932. Native Americans, campesinos, and
urban workers organized, many through the nascent Communist Party and Farabundo
Martí's Red Aid. However, a 1932 popular revolt of the poor, following a military coup,
ended in the massacre of an estimated 30,000 people by the armed forces, led by
President General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez. Martí became a national martyr and
hero. For more than sixty years the military continued to control the presidency and the

Through the 1940s the government discouraged industry (and the development of a
working and middle class). A new government in the 1950s, under Colonel Osorio,
opened opportunities for the development of a middle class and industry, hoping to co-
opt them while using them to improve the country's economy. Repression of the political
opposition continued.

A coup by junior officers in 1960 replaced a widely unpopular and corrupt regime with
one that held popular support and created a brief hope for democracy and free elections.
However, the U.S. government, preoccupied with the specter of communism following
Castro's triumph in Cuba the year before, opposed free elections and denounced this
government as communist. By early 1961 the army had imposed a token civilian
government, which immediately won the Kennedy administration's support and economic
aid. The "danger" of democracy and free elections had been averted and the status quo

The U.S. Alliance for Progress (a Kennedy administration project throughout Latin
America), U.S.A.I.D., and the Peace Corps built schools and contributed to the lives of
the poor. The U.S. government also gave substantial material and technical support to the
military. U.S. investors helped build Salvadoran industry. Workers did very well,
especially while the short-lived Central American common market boosted the economy.
However, the wealthy landowners refused to make land available to campesinos; rural
poverty and unemployment grew. El Salvador had more democracy and freedom than
neighboring states, and had no active guerilla movements in the 1960s, making it a
showcase of U.S. diplomacy. The political opposition grew in strength and influence, led
by figures such as the mayor of San Salvador, José Napoleón Duarte.

An economic downturn in 1967 caused unrest and strikes, which the military brutally
repressed. However many remained optimistic about positive political change in the near
future. Long simmering tensions between El Salvador and Honduras exploded into the
"Soccer War" of 1969. Though economic disaster followed, the president became a war
hero and his ruling party, during a brief period of war euphoria, won the 1970 legislative

Around this time sectors of the Catholic Church, especially the Jesuits, began actively
opposing the status quo. Liberation theologians began organizing the poor to demand
justice in their lifetime, not just in the afterlife. In addition to many priests sharing the
lives of the poor and helping them like never before, the poor also took active part in their
social-political-religious awakening. Because of a severe shortage of clergy, especially in
rural areas, lay-preachers often lead parishioners in reading and (re)interpreting the Bible.

The 1972 presidential elections marked the end of an era. Although José Napoleón
Duarte, the candidate of a coalition of opposition parties, appeared to have won, the
military, through vote fraud, proclaimed their candidate the victor. Napoleón Duarte
failed to rally popular support to challenge their authority. Demonstrations and repression
increased. There was a failed coup. The military attacked the National University and
invaded the Venezualan embassy (to remove and torture Napoleón Duarte, who had taken
refuge there). With the road to legal change effectively closed, some members of the
opposition took up arms as guerrillas.
Despite political repression, foreign investment and the economy grew in the early 70s.
Slums grew as well. 41% of the rural population was landless in 1975. The land-holding
elite blocked US-supported land reform proposals by the government. Revolutionaries
kidnapped and ransomed the wealthy. The right wing formed death squads. In a scene
reminiscent of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico, or our Kent State, the military
carefully engineered a massacre of student protesters on a bridge in 1975.

The 1977 presidential elections were more blatantly fraudulent than the previous. Protests
following the elections ended in another well-planned massacre by the military
government. The elite and the military also targeted activist clergy, torturing and
murdering them. It is at this time that the newly appointed Archbishop, Oscar Romero,
became an activist and demanded an end to human rights violations. In the face of Carter
administration investigations of these violations the Salvadoran government refused to
accept further military aid. The Inter-American Development Bank withheld economic
aid pending an improvement in human rights, but only for eight months. Popular protests,
and massacres and terrorism by the Salvadoran government and military, increased.

In 1979, the Organization of American States and the U.S. State Department issued
damning human rights reports on El Salvador. On May 9 of that year, CBS cameras gave
U.S. audiences a shocking view of events: footage of the National Guard shooting
peaceful demonstrators on church steps. National and international protests grew.
October 15th brought a coup and a new government made up of a military and civilian
junta, but they continued to use violence against the Salvadoran people. Right-wing
forces continued to block reforms sought by centrist and left wing members of the junta.
U.S. military aid flowed again, and Salvadoran troops resumed training at the notorious
School of the Americas in Panama (now located in the state of Georgia, United States).

In March 1980, a program of U.S.-supported "Agrarian Reform" was initiated by the

military junta (which included the Christian Democrat José Napoleón Duarte). Military
repression accompanied the insubstantial agrarian reform (an average of ten people per
day were killed). Archbishop Romero publicized the atrocities. On March 23, he called
on the soldiers to stop killing their brothers and sisters in his nationally and
internationally broadcast radio program. The following day an assassin took his life in the
middle of mass. At his funeral, six days later, the military opened fire on and bombed the
mourners. Twenty-six died and more than two hundred were wounded. By May, military
actions against guerillas had resulted in the deaths of 1,800 non-combatants.

In September, with all possibilities for non-violent resistance closed to them, civilian
organizations and unions joined with leftist guerillas to form a unified front against the
military junta: the FMLN (The Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation). Reagan's
election as president of the United States gave the ruling elite and military confidence
that military aid would continue to flow despite their human rights abuses.

On December 2 the military attacked, raped, and killed four U.S. women (one Ursuline
nun, two Maryknoll nuns, and a lay missionary). International outrage followed;
however, the Carter administration suspended military and economic aid only briefly.
The junta restructured, with Napoleón Duarte as a figurehead president.

President Reagan, and his Secretary of State Alexander Haig, created a new front in the
cold war. They "found" evidence that the FMLN was part of a communist beachhead in
Central America that would end with a Soviet invasion of the United States. The
Europeans and others refused to buy into this theory, though the U.S. press reprinted it
gladly. Military and economic aid dramatically increased although the U.S. public was
widely and actively opposed. The death toll by 1981 increased to 1,000 per month.

Reagan increased U.S. loans to El Salvador's government from $5 million in 1980 to

$533 million in 1985, most of which was funneled to the military. The Catholic Church
charges that during the first six months of 1985 government troops carried out more than
3,000 political assassinations. The FMLN focused its attacks on the country's
infrastructure. In the long run, this did more harm than good as it turned the poor against
them because they suffered most from the economic losses that followed.

Violence continued throughout the 1980s. The FMLN boycotted the 1984 presidential
elections. José Napoleón Duarte, the centrist candidate, narrowly defeated the right-wing
ARENA party's candidate, Roberto D'Aubuisson (associated centrally with the death
squads and the murder of Archbishop Romero). ARENA's candidate, the wealthy
businessman Alfredo Cristiani, did win the 1989 elections, however.

The civil war lasted until the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords in January 1992.
It is widely believed that the murder of the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her 15 year-
old daughter at their residence at the Catholic University in San Salvador in 1989, which
unleashed world-wide horror and condemnation, precipitated the process of peace
negotiations. Both the FMLN and the government's National Guard and Treasury Police
(involved in death squad activities) agreed to disband. The army would reduce its
numbers by half. Various other reforms and safeguards were agreed to as well. By the
civil war's end, more than 1% of the country's population had been killed, and 15% had
fled abroad.

The FMLN participated, as a legal political party, in the 1994 elections. However, they
lost to the ARENA party's Calderón Sol in run-off elections (which some, though not the
UN observers, declared fraudulent).

ARENA also won the March 1999 presidential elections. Despite the gains made since
the end of the civil war, President Francisco Flores faced problems such as rural and
urban poverty, the maintenance of political and economic stability, the rebuilding of the
infrastructure, public health, and education promotion. Furthermore, he had to confront
the challenge of keeping Salvadorans who left the country out of the country. Not only
would the U.S. government's threatened deportation of the exiles exacerbate
unemployment problems, but it would also cut off family remittances, which are a major
source of national income.
El Salvador Today

Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the drought of 2000, and the earthquakes of 2001 have taken a
heavy toll in lives and on the economy. Corruption in the government and private sector
continues. The government has tied the country’s future strongly to the United States,
dollarizing the economy in 2001 (only a year before the disastrous effects this had in
Argentina became clear) and instituting neo-liberal economic reforms that make the
country even more dependent on U.S. trade. These same reforms are undermining
domestic agriculture, which cannot compete with cheap US imports (cheap because they
are subsidized by US taxpayers). The centerpiece of the Salvadoran government’s
econom ic development plan features maquiladora assembly plants like the ones along
the US-Mexico border, which generate only low-paid jobs and frequently devastate the
local environment. In addition, competition from China and other lower-wage countries
has prevented the maquilas from producing the expected jobs and economic growth.

The healthcare strike of 2002-2003 is representative of the challenges that the Salvadoran
healthcare system faces. Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers went on a national
strike after the national government announced plans to privatize the healthcare system.
After nine months of a paralyzed healthcare system, the government and striking medical
workers and doctors negotiated a settlement assuring that the health system would not be
privatized and that union members would not be penalized for participating in the strike.

The 2004 ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, by the
Salvadoran legislature and the subsequent ratification by the U.S. Congress stand as
important economic and political events for El Salvador. While many government
officials support CAFTA, some regional and community leaders as well as many labor
and environmental organizations oppose the treaty. CAFTA continues to be a contentious
issue throughout Central America as both sides attempt to characterize and quantify its

The growth of tourism is another important economic development that promises to

impact the Salvadoran economy. As the country moves farther and farther away from the
period of the civil war and becomes more politically and economically stable, foreign
tourists are looking to El Salvador’s beautiful countryside as a destination. Following an
increasing trend throughout Central and South America, the government is attempting to
capitalize on tourism by adapting its policies to favor this source of economic growth.

The 2004 Presidential elections resulted in another victory for the ARENA party, with
Antonio (“Tony”) Saca winning a five-year term. International observers, Salvadoran
news sources, and the New York Times were critical of what they called American
intervention in the election (Jeb Bush, then-governor of Florida and brother of then-
President Bush, traveled to El Salvador where he was said to have “exerted pressure” on
local officials to ensure the vote for Tony Saca). There were also local and international
concerns about the behavior of the ARENA party prior to the election, with some
observers and news outlets suggesting that ARENA propaganda played a large role in the
final outcome.
Tropical Storm Stan hit El Salvador hard in October of 2005. With local news sources
estimating damages to El Salvador total $1.4 billion, Stan’s effect have been felt long
after the flood waters receded. There were numerous reports that the government was
slow responding to the needs of the rural communities, especially the Bajo Lempa region,
after the storm hit and that basic aid like food and water were barely trickling in to the

Remittances continue to play a large role in the Salvadoran economy, accounting for at
least 16% of the nation’s GDP. While this money from family and friends in the United
States has served as a lifeline for many Salvadorans, many are worried that remittances
may have negative effects in the long run. Some studies show that families spend most of
the money from remittances on household consumption instead of using the money for
investments or education.

On January 18, 2009, El Salvador held congressional and municipal elections to elect
mayors as well as “diputados” to the Asamblea Nacional. For the first time in its history,
the FMLN registered significant gains in numerous “alcaldias” throughout the country as
well as in the Asamblea Nacional, particularly from regions especially hard-hit during the
civil war. The executive director of La Coordinadora, Aristides Valencia Arana, with
whom Team Monterey has worked for the last three years, was elected “diputado” to the
Asamblea Nacional from the departmento de Usulutan, which will usher in a new era for
the work of La Coordinadora.

On March 15, 2009, anxiously-awaited presidential elections will be held in which the
leading candidate, Mauricio Funes, a prominent journalist representing the FMLN, has
been hailed as the Barack Obama of El Salvador. There is widespread, enthusiastic hope
in the country that he will not only win the elections, but will work in tandem with
President Obama to bring about profoundly needed and desired changes in the economic
and political panorama of El Salvador.

Post-script: Mauricio Funes, in an historic victory, was indeed elected president of El

Salvador on March 15, and assumed office on June 1, 2009. Since then, he has faced
numerous challenges from the conservative political and social establishments, despite
his moderate or compromising stance on many issues (not unsimilar to the political
landscape in the United States). Nonetheless, a number of promising and long-neglected
health, environmental and educational programs have been launched or enhanced under
the aegis of more progressive or pro-active ministers and municipal authorities.

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